24 December 2006

A New Fling: Banana Bread with Booze and Raisins

Yesterday I decided it was time to break up with my banana bread recipe from The Joy of Cooking. I’m not really sure what possessed me to make this sudden life change, as things were really going great for us. It’s just that our relationship was becoming so familiar, so comfortable, and I was itching for a something new.

It was very difficult to initiate the break-up. I had it to do it in person, of course. You can’t text message someone you love that you are going to break up with them, just like you can’t text message banana bread that you are going to be using a different recipe from now on. It’s just not the right thing to do.

As I opened up The Joy of Cooking to give it the bad news, my heart collapsed with guilt when the book opened automatically to the banana bread recipe. Was it true love, or was it because of all the crap that I have spilled on those welcoming pages throughout the years? I do hope the latter is true, otherwise I have wasted my beautiful, brown, almost-rotten bananas on a new recipe that might not work out.

The recipe was overwhelmed with despair when I informed it of my situation. As it pleaded with me and listed reason after reason why we should stay together and try to make it work, I insisted that the good times were over...that things were wonderful while they lasted, but that it was time move on. I lovingly caressed its spattered pages, wiped away its tears (or maybe those were butter stains), and I closed the book.

Call me a recipe slut if you will, but the Joy of Cooking was not closed for even three seconds before I opened up Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I don’t know...maybe I should have given my emotions some time to settle. Maybe I should have stayed single for awhile before venturing out into the sea of banana recipes. But it’s so easy to move on when the first recipe you are attracted to has booze and golden raisins in it! And we all know that if anything can tempt a girl into a rebound relationship, it’s booze and raisins.

How is the new fling going? So far, pretty good. The bread hasn’t been sliced yet, so I can’t share any intimate details, but our getting-to-know-you stage is progressing just fine. I’d have to say that for once it’s fun to get to know someone before hastily jumping in and getting romantic right away. The anticipation is half of the fun. What will the new banana bread taste like? Will it it have a moist yet fluffy texture? Will it soothe me when I am sad? Will it make me laugh? Will it rub my back after a long day at work?
I definitely have my doubts...maybe I have too many expectations for Nigella’s loaf. What if it’s flat and soggy? What if it tastes more like flour than bananas? What if it’s boring, self-absorbed, and drinks Yellowtail?

There is so much to find out about this new recipe. As I introduce it to my family during our first Christmas together, I will undoubtedly learn more about its strengths and weaknesses. More details to come.

Banana Bread with Booze and Golden Raisins
~from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking
1/2 cup golden raisins
6 tbs. bourbon or dark rum (I used brandy because that's what I had)
1 cup plus 2 tbs. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 small, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp. vanilla extract
9 x 5 loaf pan, buttered and floured, or with paper insert

Put the golden raisins and rum or bourbon in a smallish saucepan and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat, cover, and leave for an hour if you can, or until the raisins have absorbed most of the liquid, then drain (or drink).

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and get started on the rest. Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized and, using your hands or a wooden spoon, combine well. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar and beat until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas. Then, with your wooden spoon, stir in the walnuts, drained raisins, and vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture, a third at a time, stirring well after each bit. Scrape into the loaf pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours. When it’s ready, an inserted toothpick should come out cleanish. Leave in the pan on a rack to cool, and eat thickly or thinly sliced, as you prefer.
Makes 8-10 slices.

Replace 2 tbs. flour with good cocoa powder and add 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, cut up into smallish chunks (or use chocolate chips).

Beautiful, almost-rotten bananas. Perfect for baking!

13 December 2006

Almond-Orange-Poppy Seed-Chocolate-Apricot-Ricotta Torte

Oh no, too many wonderful flavors all at once, make it stop!
How can they possibly taste good when they are all thrown together like that?
Surprisingly, they do. I don’t know how it is possible for each of those ingredients to come together in one dessert without them getting in a brawl and seriously injuring themselves, but somehow they all get along and bring out the best in each other.

The almond torte is refreshing and light, yet still a substantial dessert. It is both fruity AND chocolat-ey, but not too fruity, and not too chocolat-ey. The poppy seeds lend a bit of texture, while the ricotta keeps it moist and delicate.

Your guests will enjoy themselves while trying to identify the many flavors:

“Is that orange zest I smell?”
“Do I taste poppy seeds?”

“I detect a hint of almond, I do, I do.”

“These chocolate shavings are divine!”

“I taste apricot, but I don’t see it.
Where is it? Where are you hiding, little apricot?”

“And what makes this torte so moist? Why, it must be ricotta! I knew it!”

When you confirm all of your guests’ ingredient hypotheses, they will be delighted.
But not as delighted as you when your guests leave, and you slip into the kitchen for sliver after sliver after sliver of torte, and try to figure out what it is about this torte that is so delicious and different from other tortes, and why you want it in your mouth all the time.

Almond-Orange-Poppy Seed-Chocolate-Apricot-Ricotta Torte
~adapted from Jame Oliver's Jamie's Kitchen

Ingredients (all at room temperature)
1/2 cup butter
4 1/2 ounces almonds (Jamie uses hazelnuts; I couldn't find any)
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
zest of 1 orange (oh so easy if you own a microplane grater!)
3 tablespoons flour
4 1/2 ounces ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
a pinch of salt
3 heaping tablespoons apricot jam (I used apricot and cherry)
1 3/4 ounces good quality dark chocolate, finely grates (another job for the microplane!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Butter or spray an 11-inch loose-bottomed tart pan and line with wax paper.
Toast almonds (or hazelnuts) on a baking sheet for about 5 minutes, until lightly golden and aromatic.
Allow them to cool, then 'whiz' them up in a food processor until you have a fine powder. Jamie says, "Be careful not to overwhiz."

Wash and dry the bowl of the food processor, then beat the butter and sugar until pale (alternatively, use a whisk). Add the egg yolks, one by one, and the orange zest.
Stir in the flour, ricotta, almond powder, and poppy seeds.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and a pinch of salt until stiff. Fold them into the almond mixture. Pour the mixture into the tart pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean and the top has some golden-brown color to it.
While the torte is cooling, cook the jam in a small saucepan with 4 tablespoons of water. Bring to boil and brush the glaze over the torte.
When the torte is cool, sprinkle the torte with the grated chocolate.
Jamie recommends serving with crème fraîche.

09 December 2006

Yay for Husbands who Bake!

Imagine my joy when I came home from work yesterday and saw a sink full of dirty dishes.
I promise you I am not being sarcastic when I say that my prevailing emotion really was joy.

What was the reason for such jubilation?

I will tell you, if you promise not to be jealous.
It was the sight of the unwashed mixing bowl, besmeared with creamy and velvety batter.
Someone has been baking?
Who could it be?
What could it be?

Then I saw it. A beautiful, golden loaf resting upon the counter.

My husband has been making pound cake again!

Who is the luckiest girl?
Me! I am! I am the luckiest girl! My husband made pound cake and I get to eat it!
Even better, I get to sleep in on a Saturday morning, stumble into the sunny kitchen where he is already busy grinding coffee beans, and sigh happily at the sight of the cake, glowing in the sunshine, only half-eaten.

Life is good.

Husband’s Pound Cake
~from Williams-Sonoma

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter,
at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract (optional)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Preheat an oven to 325°F. Lightly grease an 8 1⁄2-by-4 1⁄2-inch loaf pan, preferably glass, and dust with flour.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt until blended. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla and almond extract on medium to medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until just blended. Sprinkle half of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and stir until both are just incorporated. Stir in the sour cream, then sprinkle with the remaining flour mixture and stir until evenly distributed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and tap gently on the counter to even out and settle the ingredients. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 70 minutes, or longer if using a metal pan. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes.

Run a thin knife around the inside of the pan, invert the cake onto the rack and lift off the pan. Place the cake on one of its sides and continue cooling. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10.

pure joy

05 December 2006

Does My Blog Look Good in This?

It does, hooray!
Does My Blog Look Good in This? results for October 2006 were recently posted at Spittoon Extra, and this Fancy Toast photograph (from a previous post) tied for third place.
There were so many other beautiful pictures that were entered by the other food bloggers...I am excited to be a part of the collection, and happy to have learned of some new blogs that I will now be visiting daily.
Please stop by Andrew's site to view the winners and the rest of the entries.

03 December 2006

Sad, Sad Cranberry Relish

Sad, sad cranberry relish.
Amidst the bustle of Thanksgiving dinner, no one remembered to put it out on the table.
There it sat in the back of the fridge, just waiting for someone to notice the lack of a certain ruby hue on the dinner plates.
But no one noticed.
No one missed the celebration and merriment that he cranberry relish could have happily, scarletly, provided.
Perhaps because it was so incredibly easy to make, it escaped our consciousness as the flurry of the Thanksgiving plating ensued. Thank goodness for the apricot brandy in it, which is possibly extending its refrigerator life, allowing us to relish the relish more than a week after the holiday for which it was created.

It really is unfortunate that the relish was neglected, because it is so very delicious. Scooped up in a forkful alongside any cut of meat, nudged up on top of a piece of bread, accidentally swept up with a morsel of stuffing, it adds a cheery, citrus note to every mouthful.
Not too sweet…a chunk of orange peel thrown into the food processor lends it a tart edginess. I was overzealous in my orange-peel-adding, and as a result the relish became too bitter. But, thanks to my recent obsession with all things cherry, some cherry preserves in the fridge sweetened the relish and balanced the flavors flawlessly.

I realize it is a little late to be suggesting Thanksgiving courses. But I would say that this relish, which can be put together in three to six minutes, depending on how long it takes you to peel an orange and unscrew a bottle of booze, is a bright, fresh side that can complement many hearty meals, holiday-themed or not.

Cranberry-Orange Relish (takes four minutes, seriously)

12 oz. bag of cranberries, picked through to remove the icky ones
1 orange, peeled
1 piece of orange peel (about 2 inches by 2 inches)
1 apple, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons of apricot brandy, or any fruit-infused liquor (optional)
¼ cup of cherry preserves
¼ cup of apricot preserves
sugar, to taste (optional…if your preserves are sweet enough, you will not need sugar)

Throw above ingredients into a blender or food processor. Pulse until the cranberries have broken down and only the occasional whole cranberry remains. Do not blend into a purée.
Add more ingredients according to your taste. Too sweet? Add more orange peel. Too bitter? Add more preserves.
That’s it, you’re done!

27 November 2006

Ravioli, Sans Pasta

Roasted Butternut Squash Purée with Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese and Sage

Oh, golden and luxurious ravioli filling, I hereby elevate your status from ‘filling’ to ‘side dish.’ By means of this declaration, you may finally rid yourself of the confines of your bland pasta encasements and bask in your own squishy squashy glory. Your epicurean rank now is equal to that of mashed potatoes and creamed corn.

So...I hope I am not being lazy when I make homemade ravioli and leave out the ravioli. It’s just that I’m not good at making homemade pasta. I’m much better at helping my friends make homemade pasta, which means that I lovingly turn the crank of the pasta machine with one hand and hold a wine glass (more lovingly) in the other hand. Friends, whilst you slave over piles of eggy flour and clumps of sticky, uncooked ravioli, I sit at the kitchen island spooning velvety mouthfuls of squash into my mouth when your backs are turned.

Since that joyful November evening during which when I ‘helped’ my friends make ravioli, I have made this ravioli filling twice as a side. It stands on its own, splendidy, and has the potential to surpass your main course.

Roasted Butternut Squash Purée with Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese and Sage
~adapted from Butternut Squash Ravioli Recipe at epicurious.com
1.5 pounds of butternut squash
2 tablespoons butter
2 onions, diced
1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped finely
3 oz. goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees faranheit.
Cut the squash into two halves and scrape out the seeds. Discard seeds (or save for garnish).
Place the squash cut side down onto a baking sheet. Bake for about an hour, until the squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork.
Set aside to cool

Meanwhile, prepare the onions by cooking them over medium-low heat in the butter for about twenty-five minutes. Add the sage and garlic about halfway through the cooking time. When the onions are soft, dark, and caramelized, take them off the heat and stir in the goat cheese.

When the squash has cooled, scrape the flesh into a bowl.
Add the onion mixture.
Using a hand mixture, blend the squash and onions until smooth and creamy. Alternatively, use a food processor.
Season to taste.

15 November 2006

A Single Tear Drips off a Prepubescent Moustache

Erielle is in a horrid mood today. She yelled at some students at school this morning, and she didn't yell quietly. The two children (well, one of them has a moustache so it is doubtful whether or not he can be considered a child) were not doing anything intentionally malicious, thus, the remainder of the class is now terrified of their crazy teacher.

Now safely locked in her office, Erielle is disappointed in her irrational anger, which tends to surface randomly and cannot be suppressed. Still fuming, she plans to squelch her lingering fury by checking out the newest German porn sites during her planning time. To hell with the censors on the school computers. Let them come and get her and cart her away.

On second thought, Erielle decides she is not interested in porn sites today, and will instead eat the entire plate of chocolate cherry cookies that she made especially for her students but too bad for them they’re a bunch of jerks and they’re not going to get any.

In the event that the consumption of these cookies does not diminish Erielle’s angst, please list further anxiety-relieving procedures that come to your minds, preferably those that can be followed within the confines of a windowless cube that is engulfed by the cacophony of a seventh grade band that is playing the same song that the seventh grade band has been playing every single goddamnit year for the five years of Erielle’s short-lived career as a mean middle school orchestra director who makes pre-teens cry.

Optional objects or mediums available in windowless cube for anxiety-relieving procedures:
-random, broken, inexpensive musical instruments that sound like crap
-the internet
-a scanner
-a toolbox
-a co-worker's lunch
-a grizzly bear costume
-a stop sign
-a bottle of ibuprofen and about 140 bandaids
-$8.36 in ones and change
-two unopened tubes of Krazy Glue

(Events in this dramatization have been modified. Erielle has not made any students cry for at least 1.5 years, and she doesn’t visit German porn sites. She does, however, have students with prepubescent moustaches, and prepubescent moustaches gross her out, so she likes those students less. They don’t get any cookies.)

Chocolate Cherry Cookies
from Cooking Light

The cocoa powder gives these cookies a wonderfully strong chocolate flavor, and the dried cherries give each bite a fruity tang. There is not even a full stick of butter in the recipe, and only on egg, but somehow the cookies turn out chewy and moist with a crunchy outside. What more can you want from cookie?

1 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder (I used Shaffern-Berger, the good stuff, but if you’re making it for ungrateful middle school students who don’t know how to behave, just use Hershey’s cocoa powder)
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg

2/3 cup dried cherries (I use a cup)
3 tbs. chocoloate chips (surprise, I use about 6 tbs.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients and whisk until combined.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar.
Add the egg and the vanilla and mix until blended.

Gradually add the dry ingredients, scraping down the side of the bowl to incorporate all of the batter.

Fold in the chips and the cherries.

Scoop tablespoons of batter onto a greased baking sheet.
Bake for 12 minutes, then let cookies sit on baking sheet for an additional 5 minutes. They will not look done when they come out of the oven, but they will continue to cook on the baking sheet.

12 November 2006

Guess what, NYC...Chicago has its Own Magnolia Bakery, Except It’s Not Cupcakes, It's Sausages!

Mushroom and Garden Vegetable Chicken Sausage
with Shiitake-Chevre Sauce and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

You may or may not be aware of the infamous Magnolia Bakery in NYC, whose charm and whose cupcakes are supposedly so irresistible that New Yorkers and tourists (mostly tourists) have been observed waiting in lines that that wrap around the corner and stretch for blocks. (thanks to Amateur Gourmet for the video link.)

Like many, I learned of Magnolia bakery when SNL's "Lazy Sunday" skit skyrocketed the bakery’s appeal to millions. I have not visited Magnolia Bakery, therefore I am not at liberty to comment on either the quality of the cupcakes or what makes this place such a sweet-tooth magnet. But - rumor has it that the cupcakes do not live up to the expectations of those who have waited in the line.

Well, there might not be as many people in Chicago as there are in NYC, but we certainly have an establishment whose wrap-around-the-corner-lines are worth the wait, and isn’t it fitting for our city that it is a restaurant that showcases ground meat?

Hot Doug’s
The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium

“There are no two finer words in the English language than,
‘encased meats,’ my friend.”
-Secret Robbie

I feasted at Hot Doug’s for the first time yesterday, and I am simultaneously gladdened and saddened by the experience. I am gladdened, simply because Hot Doug’s exists, but I am saddened because I live on the opposite end of the city from Hot Doug’s, and forty minutes is too long to drive for a wiener, at least on a regular basis.

No, what am I saying? No distance is too far, and no wait is too long for these exceptional, gourmet sausages! Not only does Doug serve a wide assortment of sausage types, but the condiment combinations he dishes up are mouth-wateringly too good to be true.

Take a look at this Specials menu and tell me you wouldn’t experience difficulty choosing just one wiener from this list:

Go ahead, look me in the eye and tell me you would rather eat a cupcake than “Portugese Linguica with Saffron Rouille and Romao Sheep's Milk Cheese.”

Portugese Linguica with Saffron Rouille and Romao Sheep's Milk Cheese

What is linguica? Why, I'm glad you asked. It is Portugese sausage that is seasoned with onions, garlic, and paprika. What’s a rouille? I can tell you that, too. It’s a sauce that consists of olive oil with bread or breadcrumbs with spices.

If 'linguica' and 'rouille' were not previously in your vocabulary, than your epicurean lexicon was just improved by this vicarious e-visit to Chicago's fanciest hot dog joint.
Do you you think you could learn new words by eating cupcakes?
I think not.
Don't think I am smack-talking cupcakes. I enjoy a good cupcake now and then. But right now I so gastronomically elated about my meal at Hot Doug's that I cannot think about anything else, especially cupcakes, which are just distracting in general.

I left Hot Doug's with a happy heaviness in my belly, which was created not only by the best sausage experience of my life, but also by the heavenly duck fat fries. I hope there is duck fat in heaven. I also hope that in heaven, blood orange mustard cream is lovingly poured over gourmet sausages. I even hope there are cupcakes. I just hope you don’t have to wait in line for any of those things.

There's Doug, chatting with a customer behind his framed citation
from the city of Chicago warning him to stop serving foie gras.
Doug is a condiment genius AND he's sassy!

Saucisse de Toulouse with Blood Orange Mustard Cream, Fromage Chaume and Fwah Graa(TM) "Butter"

Smoked Rattlesnake Sausage with Apricot-Dijon Sauce and Blue Cheese
drizzled with Truffle Honey

The joint was packed!

Hot Doug’s
3324 North California
Chicago, IL 60618
Phone: (773) 279-9550

Hot Doug's even has its own theme song!

08 November 2006

The Best Pork Tacos in Chicago and a Shameless Plug for my String Quartet

taco al pastor at Arturo's, yum!

Have you ever said to yourself that someday you would really like to start listening to more classical music?
Might you have also said to yourself that one of these days, you will really stop spending so much money eating out?

This Friday, you can begin to fulfill both of those resolutions, for only $4 plus the price of drinks. This is how:

Go to Arturo’s on Western and Armitage Avenues.
Nibble complimentary chips and fresh salsa.
Treat yourself to a flavorful taco al pastor.
Savor the flavorful meat that has been marinated, spiced, and vertically broiled on a rotisserie.
Take advantage of the fresh taco garnishes, which are always plentiful and delicious. Only the avocados cost extra. Totally worth it.
Sigh with pork-filled contentment, and roll on over to Danny’s.
Grab a drink from the bar.
Relax, sip your booze, and listen to a free concert by Quartet Parapluie.
Attend post-concert dance party.
Go back to Arturo’s for a post-dance-party taco al pastor.

wonderfully fresh and spicy salsa

Yes, you can find a less expensive pork taco in Chicago, but it probably won’t taste better than it will at Arturo’s. And yes, you can find a string quartet that’s better than Quartet Parapluie, but you’ll probably have to fork up alot of cash for tickets, and you certainly won’t be able to drink booze while you listen to the performance.
No fun!
Come and see us instead!

We’ll be playing Ralph Vaughan William’s String Quartet in G minor, and Maurice Ravel’s String Qaurtet in F Major. For fans of the movie The Royal Tennenbaums, the second movement of this piece was played at the very beginning of the movie when the family members were being introduced. You’d recognize the piece if you heard it…it begins with fast, joyful pizzicato (plucking of the strings)…it may very well be one of the most joyful beginnings to any piece of music ever written.

Pork tacos and Ravel in one night. Can life get any better?

Quartet Parapluie at Danny’s
Friday, November 11th, 2006 @ 8:30 p.m.
1951 W. Dickens, Chicago, IL

Arturo’s Tacos
2001 N. Western, Chicago, IL

the ceiling at Arturo's

04 November 2006

Dahling, you simply MUST get a microplane grater.

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Parmesan Crisp And Toasted Squash Seeds

I got one!
I am so happpppeeeeeeeeeee!

If you have never used a microplane grater, then you have never experienced the magic of effortlessly transforming a hard chunk of parmesan into a billowy cloud of wispy curls that is four times the size of the original piece of cheese.



If you have used a microplane grater before, you are thinking, “Oh, isn’t she cute. Yes, I remember my first time using a microplane grater. I was so young and stupid then. But now I am experienced and wise.”

For years I had meaning to buy a microplane grater, but every time I saw one, I decided there was something else that I needed more.
On my ongoing list titled "Things-That-I-Really-Want-To-Buy-But-That-Are-
Not-Essential-To-My-Happiness," a microplane grater was between a salad spinner and a fat separator.

I was so young and stupid then. But now I have a microplane grater, and now I am experienced and wise, and also happy. And now I can make parmesan crisps in the blink of an eye.


And assuming I still have an acorn squash sitting on my counter from a trip to the farmer’s market more than a month ago, I can make acorn squash soup with parmesan crisps in 10,800 blinks of an eye. That’s assuming it takes an hour for the soup to cook, and you blink three times per second. Hmmmm….I just tried that for about twenty seconds but now my eyelids hurt. I will re-compute. Blinking twice per second for an hour is a more practical pace and it comes out to 7,200 blinks of an eye.

Acorn Squash Soup with Parmesan Crisps in 7,200 Blinks of an Eye
For the soup:
1 acorn squash
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cups vegetable broth (or more if you prefer a thinner consistency)
¼ orange juice
¼ cup half & half or milk or a combination of both

For the parmesan crisps:
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated with your handy-dandy microplane grater

For the Sweet and Spicy Toasted Squash Seeds
(technique and recipe adapted from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks)
1 egg white
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon brown suger
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Prepare the squash:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Cut open acorn squash and scrape out seeds. Reserve seeds.
Place squash halves on baking sheet, cut sides up.
Spread butter on squash and sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 45 minutes, until flesh is browning on top and can be easily pierced with a fork.
When squash is done, raise the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees F for the crisps.

While the squash is roasting, prepare the seeds….
Rinse seeds and dry on a paper towel.
Whisk egg white and stir in spices.
Add seeds to egg mixture and stir well.
Drain extra egg whites and spread seeds on a baking shee lined with parchment paper.
Bake in oven for 12 – 15 minutes (you can bake the seeds while the squash is roasting).

While the seeds are roasting, prepare the soup….
Sauté onions over medium high heat until softened.
Add carrot and cook for three minutes.
Add broth and cook for 15-20 minutes, until carrots are soft.
Pour broth mixture into blender.
When the squash is ready, scrape the flesh into the blender.
Add the orange juice and the half & half.
Blend until creamy.
If the soup is too thick, add more broth or milk as needed.
Season to taste.

And now, for the parmesan crips...
Raise the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees F.
Spoon heaping tablespoons of grated parmesan onto a baking sheet (about 3 inches apart). Success is guaranteed if you use a silicone mat (I love my SILPAT).
Bake for 3-5 minutes until cheese is golden and crispy. Do not let the cheese become too brown, or the flavor is overpowering.

Amost done….
Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with toasted seeds. Garnish with a parmesan crisp.

30 October 2006

Two Ways to Ensure your Husband’s Eternal Love

Devastatingly Rich Dark Chocolate Cheesecake

Two Ways to Ensure your Husband’s Eternal Love:

1. Braise his dinner in beer.
2. Make him a cheesecake and put a pound of chocolate in it.

I’m pretty sure these techniques work. Not that I need my husband to love me more (I’m pretty sure he loves me more than I love him), but just in case…

Husbands love beer. I don’t know any husbands that don’t love beer, and I am presently going through the list of all the husbands that I know and I cannot think of one that does not love beer.
Husbands also like ribs. True love is guaranteed forever if you brown some short ribs in a Dutch oven, sautée some onions and other vegetables in it, toss in some rosemary and a bay leaf, pour in a bottle of beer, cover it up, throw it in the oven, let it braise for a few hours, take out the ribs whose tender meat is falling off the bones, brush the ribs with a rosemary-infused maple glaze, and put them under the broiler until their sweet, herby crusts are bubbling and crispy.

short ribs before braising

After you have eaten the ribilicious dinner and your husband has confirmed his everlasting adoration of your existence, present him with a devastatingly rich chocolate cheesecake that has more than a pound of chocolate in it, if you count the 9 oz. of chocolate in the cake, the 9 oz. of chocolate in the crust, and the 6 oz. of chocolate in the topping. Oh, Nellie!

Instead of typing out Molly Stevens' recipe for Short Ribs Braised in Porter Ale with Maple-Rosemary Glaze, I will refer you to her glorious cookbook, All About Braising. The reason I am not typing out the recipe is that you should go and buy this cookbook already. Ummm…also… I don’t want to get in trouble with Molly Stevens for giving away too many of her recipes. No one likes getting sued by their idol.

As for the deep dark chocolate cheesecake recipe, you can find it on Epicurious' website.
Again, I would type it out, but you can just as easily get it on their website, and I need to stop typing soon so that my devoted husband can paint my toenails for me.

Oh, by the way, if you have 30 husbands, this would be the perfect dessert, because with the right slicing technique, you can easily get 30 slices out of this cake. It is so chocolatively dense that even a man only needs the smallest sliver to fall head over heels in love with the baker of the cake.

22 October 2006

How to get your Cat (or Husband) to Eat More Fruit

The percentage of women who meet the recommended intake of fruit per day is probably not very high. The percentage of men who meet it is probably even lower. It’s most likely the lowest for cats.

One of my excuses for not eating enough fruit used to be that I am too busy to eat fruit during the day. That sounds absurd, I know, but hear me out: When you eat fruit, your hands usually become sticky. Especially if it’s juicy and ripe, right? And unlike eating a sandwich or something you can eat with a fork, it is very difficult to eat fruit and do anything else at the same time. Then, adding to the time it takes to eat the fruit, you need to wash your hands both before AND after you eat fruit…that’s two trips to the washroom. In conclusion, if I want to eat an apple at work, it is a nine-minute ordeal during which I can do nothing else. I don’t have that kind of time!

Weighing out my options, I did some brainstorming and decided that the easiest, least sticky, and most time efficient way to get enough fruit into my and my husband’s bellies everyday is the fruit smoothie. There’s no peeling, no pitting, no de-seeding…there’s not even any chewing!

Try it and let me know if it works. But just in case your loved one rejects your efforts, I have included some potential excuses he may give you; each excuse is paired with an appropriate response to help you persuade your sweetheart to ingest the healthy and delicious concoction.

His excuse: “You don’t have time to make me a smoothie.”
Your response: “Nonsense. I can make a smoothie in 55 seconds, true story.”

His excuse: “I don’t want you to go the trouble.”
Your response: “Oh, it’s no trouble at all! I made one for myself and I accidentally made too much. You don’t want it to go to waste, do you?”

His excuse: “I have to go to work.”
Your response: “I know you have to go to work, so I put your smoothie in an empty water bottle. See? Now you can take it to go.”


His excuse: “My stomach is full of chicken.”
Your response: “We haven’t eaten chicken for a week. Anyway, it’s just liquid now, so it’s not really food. It’s like a frappuccino. You love frappuccinos!”

His excuse: “Is there spinach in it because I heard you can die from eating spinach. Death by Smoothie!”
Your response: “You don’t die from eating spinach. You die from eating poop that might be on spinach.”

His excuse: “Smoothies is chick food.”
Your response: “So is frappuccinos.”

His excuse: “I don’t have any teeth.”
Your response: “Use this straw.”

His excuse: “I don’t like cat spit in my smoothie.”
Your response: “I don’t like people who get scurvy because of the lack of fruit in their diet. No scurvy for you!”

look at all that fruit!

You really don’t need a recipe for a smoothie, but I thought I would share with you the ingredients that are essential in my daily smoothie. But you should really put whatever you like in it.

1. Orange juice or juice of any kind. The liquid helps the blender run smoothly. If you don’t use juice, that’s fine, but be prepared to stop the blender and stir the fruit a few times. Stirring adds at least one minute to the smoothie-making process, however, because you have to turn off the blender, open the drawer to get a spoon, take out a spoon, open the blender lid, stir the fruit, turn the blender back on, and repeat procedure as needed. You also have to wash the spoon. Use juice, it saves you time and work.

2. Vanilla yogurt. Yogurt adds thickness and a nice sweetness, especially if the fruit isn’t especially ripe. Yogurt is also good for you!

3. Banana. The banana ensures a creamy consistency. Smoothies made without bananas tend to have icier textures.

4. Various combinations of frozen fruits and fresh fruits. Frozen fruits make the smoothie cold, negating the need for ice, which has no nutritional value. Frozen fruit is also efficient because it doesn’t rot while it sits around and waits for you to get around to eating it. You can buy frozen fruit in bags at the grocery store, or you can freeze fruit that you buy at the farmer’s market.

5. Baby spinach leaves (some days). Spinach is packed with nutrition and only makes the smoothie’s texture a little grainier than usual. You really don’t taste it. It does turn the smoothie green though, so if your husband or offspring are squeamish about green liquids, just put it in your own.

I wasn't eating your smoothie, I swear.

19 October 2006

Bon Appétit Pop Quiz

Which of the following ingredients would you most expect to find in a Bon Appétit recipe?

a) jello
b) pizza dough in a can
c) crack cocaine

If you answered c) crack cocaine, you aren’t very smart because crack cocaine is against the law and I don’t think Barbara Fairchild is the type to recommend that you begin cooking with illegal substances. As for a) jello, I think they’re going to make jello illegal soon.
I just made that up but I don’t think it’s an awful idea.

The correct answer is b) pizza dough in a can. Yes, the pre-made dough in the cardboard tube
off of which you peel the label and onto which you press the back of a spoon until the can pops open.

Bon Appétit suggests using this pre-made dough to save time when making Cheesy Zucchini and Red Onion Flatbread.
I was shocked to read this.
Are you shocked?
I am shocked.
This is Bon Appétit we are talking about here!
Pizza dough in a can?
(I want you to know that I accidentally typed ‘Oizza Dopugh in a Van’ and I almost didn't fix it.)

In Bon Appétit’s defense, I found this recipe in the back of the issue, in the section of “Fast Easy Fresh” recipes. I suppose readers aren’t expecting any precious treasures in the “Fast Easy Fresh” section, and that’s why this one got slipped in.
Expectations of precious treasures aside, this flatbread is really quite easy and quite excellent. I think it might be nice served alongside some carrot soup with some jello powder or crack cocaine sprinkled on top.

Cheesy Zucchini and Red Onion Flatbread
~adapted from Bon Appétit August 2006

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 10-ounce tube refrigerated pizza dough
3/4 cup garlic-and-herb cheese spread (such as Alouette), divided
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
1 small red onion
1 7- to 8-inch-long zucchini (yellow or green), cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds, divided
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper; spray with nonstick spray. Whack can of pizza dough against countertop until the tube pops open. Alternatively, follow directions on the tube and press a spoon against the seam of the tube until it comes open. Unroll dough onto parchment. Spread half of herbed cheese over 1 long half of dough, leaving 1/2-inch plain border. Sprinkle with half of Parmesan and 2 tablespoons parsley. Using parchment as aid, fold plain half of dough over filled half (do not seal edges). Spread remaining herb cheese over top; sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Remove enough outer layers of onion to yield 2-inch-diameter core; cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Arrange 1 row of zucchini down 1 long side of dough. Arrange onion rounds in row alongside zucchini. Arrange 1 more row of zucchini alongside onion. Brush vegetables with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake bread until puffed and deep brown at edges, about 24 minutes. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley.